For People Allergic to Salicylic Acid
By Cynthia Bailey MD.
For people allergic to salicylic acid there are many other powerful treatment products that work well to fight acne.
Facial acne vulgaris - the most common type of acne - is seen as pimples, cysts, and blackheads. Often, the acne begins in the classic T-zone area of your face, but it eventually spreads to your entire face.
Salicylic acid is an effective acne treatment because it penetrates well into oily pores to help unclog blockages, treat blackheads and bring other treating ingredients down deeper into the pore. Pore blockages also prevent other medicines from getting into pores to treat acne, making salicylic acid particularly useful for clogged pores. But if you are allergic to this acne fighter, you still have options.
Acne treatment ingredient options if you are allergic to salicylic acid include:
- benzoyl peroxide (a great pore cleaner that is also the best ingredient to kill acne causing bacteria),
- glycolic acid which helps to brighten your complexion and clear out pores,
- green tea, a powerhouse antioxidant known to reduce skin inflammation and oil production to improve acne,
- retinol which is my favorite combination acne and age-fighting ingredient to help brighten skin and keep pores clear,
- pyrithione zinc, an unusual ingredient known to reduce the skin yeast that contributes to 'fungal' acne.
Get the best results treating acne when you use a number of these options together; mix and match to fix your acne outbreaks.
Banish your facial acne - even with a salicylic acid allergy - using my four-step acne treatment outlined below. - Dr. Bailey
My simple, four-step acne treatment for people allergic to salicylic acid uses 4 steps to keep your skin healthy and able to resist dryness while you treat your acne. I call this Complete Skin Care.
Dr. Bailey's Complete Skin Care Routine to Treat Acne Without Salicylic Acid
Treatment includes layering products for the 4 essential steps of:
These 4 steps are usually done in this order - clear up your acne even without salicylic acid!
Step One: CLEANSE
Thoroughly wash your face once or twice a day and begin to treat your acne using my Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser (best for cystic acne), Glycolic Acid Cleanser (best for mild acne and to brighten your complexion) and/or Calming Zinc Bar Soap (which helps to fight 'fungal acne' Pityrosporum folliculitis).
Consider a combination treatment using the Glycolic Acid Cleanser during the day and Calming Zinc at night. I used this cleansing combo for years in my 30s to late 40s and my skin loved it! You can improve the success of your treatment by using either an Exfoliating Facial Sponge or sonic skin cleansing system when cleaning your face.
Step Two: CORRECT
Once your face is clean of oil, dirt, debris, and product residue your skin can maximally absorb additional acne treating ingredients.
My top choice routine uses Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy applied right after washing and toweling dry skin. Green tea topical products have been shown to decrease sebum and help combat acne. They also fight irritation and dryness, making them ideal for sensitive skin.
Top your green tea with additional correcting products to treat your acne and blackheads. Use include benzoyl peroxide, which is the best way to control pustular acne and the acne causing germ called C. acnes. It also helps breakup blackheads. My Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Lotion is a great choice since it is also alcohol free.
If your acne is mild, glycolic acid exfoliates to fight blackheads and brighten your complexion. I topped my Green Tea with Glycolic Acid during the day for years to fight acne and skin aging together. Glycolic acid can stimulate collagen renewal to soften acne scars too. My Glycolic Acid Face Cream is oil free and also doubles as the product for your next step, which is HYDRATE.
Use more than one ingredient to cover more of the driving forces that lead to acne. If you used a skin cleanser with one of these ingredients then pick the other to apply next.
The other important ingredient in the fight against acne is a retinoid. Retinol is a great choice. Use retinol at night after washing. My Retinol Night Cream has green tea in it. Apply it right after washing your face.
Step Three: HYDRATE
After cleansing your face and treating your acne, apply Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Oily to Normal Skin to places on your face that need a little more hydration. This ultra-light cream is oil free, will not clog pores and hydrates with state-of-the-art ingredients. If you have used the Glycolic Acid Face Cream then you don't need a moisturizer because the oil free cream base is an excellent moisturizer.
Step Four: PROTECT
After you complete the previous steps, be sure to protect your skin with daily sun protection. Sunscreen can prevent hyperpigmentation of acne scars and improve your overall anti-aging facial skin health.
To best protect acne-prone skin, I recommend mineral zinc oxide sunscreen. The most popular products for my acne prone patients include Sheer Strength Pure Mineral Sunscreens. They provide broad spectrum SPF protection using pure invisible zinc oxide, which is non-irritating. These sunscreens are oil-free, never feel greasy and look and feel great on your skin. Choose from my Sheer Strength Pure Physical Spray Sunscreen (which works really well on hairy facial skin), or my Matte Tinted Sunscreen. Refresh SPF during the day with Sheer Strength Powder SPF Refresh that contains over 3.2% iron oxide to help prevent pigment problems such as melasma.
How to tell if you are allergic to salicylic acid?
Salicylic acid in skin care is usually well tolerated even on your face. That said, there is a small chance you could be allergic to it. There is an even greater chance that it was just too irritating to your skin because salicylic acid is known to be irritating. In fact, we use it to peel skin which is the ultimate irritation!
Knowing the difference between a salicylic acid allergy and irritation is important; you can't get over an allergy but you can use lower concentrations or less frequent application to bypass irritation of a product ingredient. - Dr. Bailey
Typically, an allergic reaction happens every time you apply something to your skin. The rash itches and comes up in a day or two after exposure. Even low concentrations will cause allergy. Know that the other ingredients in a salicylic acid product may also be allergens so determining allergic reactions to complex skin care formulations is difficult. Fragrance and preservatives are the most common skin allergens.
Salicylic acid irritant dermatitis (the term for an irritation to salicylic acid) will happen when salicylic acid is applied in higher concentrations (typical strengths in products are 0.5 to 2% and professional skin peel concentrations are much higher). The skin becomes red and burns. Sometimes this happens right away. Alternatively, it may take days to build up from successive irritation reactions finally culminating in stinging red skin.
It is possible to treat acne without salicylic acid. Start your acne routine today and don't let your facial acne control your life.
The bottom-line routine for pustular acne treatment if you have a salicylic acid allergy:
- CLEANSE in morning with Glycolic Acid Face Wash. In evening use Calming Zinc
- CORRECT in morning with Green Tea then spot treat areas prone to pimples with Benzoyl Peroxide. (Alternatively, you can apply Glycolic Acid Face Cream in place of benzoyl peroxide and the moisturizer if your acne is mild.) At night use Retinol Night Cream in place of Green Tea and Benzoyl peroxide.
- HYDRATE with Daily Moisturizing Face Cream
- PROTECT with Sheer Strength Sunscreen
- Suzana Saric, Manisha Notay, and Raja K. Sivamani, Green Tea and Other Tea Polyphenols: Effects on Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris, Antioxidants, (Basel). 2017 March; 6(1): 2.Published online 2016 December 29. doi: 10.3390/antiox6010002 PMCID: PMC5384166
- Elsaie ML, Abdelhamid MF, Elsaaiee LT, Emam HM. The efficacy of topical 2% green tea lotion in mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris. J Drugs Dermatol. 2009 Apr;8(4):358-64.